Songs, Orchestra and a Caboodle of Cute Kids in Our Gang’s ‘Oliver’

Aug 22, 2018
Photo by: Margot Miller

Our Gang Players will present “Oliver” at Barnegat High School’s Bengal Theatre at 7 p.m. on Friday and Saturday, Aug. 24 and 25 and at 2 p.m. on Sunday, Aug. 26.

Tickets are $20 for adults, $15 for seniors and $12 for children 12 years of age and younger. Due to technical difficulties, Our Gang’s online ticketing platform is shut down. So you’ll have to order tickets the old-fashioned way by calling 609-597-0553 or at the door.

That’s sort of appropriate, because “Oliver” was a child of the 1960s, when the internet was still a glint in a computer scientist’s eye. It opened in London’s West End on June 30, 1960 and on Broadway on Jan. 6, 1963.

Nowadays many a Hollywood film eventually becomes a Broadway musical. But in the ’60s the train ran the other way. There have been 10 film musicals that won the Best Picture Oscar. Four of them – “West Side Story” (1961), “My Fair Lady” (1964), “The Sound of Music” (1965) and “Oliver” (1968) – were in the ’60s. Indeed, a film musical wouldn’t win Best Picture honors again until “Chicago” in 2002.

“Oliver,” with music, lyrics and book by Lionel Bart, based on the Charles Dickens novel Oliver Twist, is a feel-good show. Well … eventually.

Little Oliver (Zac Ciappa) certainly isn’t feeling good as the musical opens. He’s confined in a crowded London workhouse, forced to survive on a steady diet of gruel. Oliver is so hungry that he has the nerve to ask for more. The workhouse’s overseers, Mr. Bumble (Jon Voinski) and the Widow Corney (Sara Targett), can’t believe their ears.

Bumble gets rid of his pesky problem by selling the boy to the Sowerberrys, a couple who owns a funeral parlor, for five pounds. They plan on making him a coffin follower (“only for the children’s practice”). Oliver’s diet improves slightly over the workhouse fare – Mrs. Sowerberry (Stacey Schnepp-Stoops) has the goodness to feed him the dog’s scraps.

A young Sowerberry employee, Noah Claypole (Jacob Seeger), and their daughter Charlotte (Morgan Damato), make Oliver’s life miserable. When Noah insults Oliver’s deceased mother, the orphan strikes out, pummeling the larger boy and eventually escaping from the parlor.

Oliver is now on the streets. He is befriended by a cocky scamp, Jack Dawkins, the Artful Dodger (Ryan Cobeiro). The Dodger brings Oliver to the lair of Fagin (Lou Monaco). Fagin is training/testing his crew of young thieves on the fine art of picking pockets. The naïve Oliver can’t quite figure out what’s going on, and thinks Fagin and the boys are actually manufacturing things such as handkerchiefs and wallets.

Oliver feels at home with Fagin and Co. He’s fed, even if the sausages are “stale,” he has a warm place to sleep, and he has a group of friends, including a couple of young women, Nancy (Carly Voinski) and Bet (Lauren Pascucci).

Oliver’s life takes a major step up after he is arrested when the gang picks the pocket of a respectable gentleman, Mr. Brownlow (Kurt Stofko). Amazingly, Brownlow doesn’t press charges but instead takes the orphan under his and his housekeeper Mrs. Bedwin’s (Alena Mohr) care. Now he’s not only fed and warm but clean and safe. He’s even getting medical attention from Dr. Grimwig (Joe Pascucci). And most of all, love!

His happiness doesn’t last for long. Bill Sykes (Kris King), a notorious tough associated with Fagin and Nancy’s brutal boyfriend, is dismayed when he hears of Oliver’s new situation. Sykes is worried Oliver will spill the beans on the entire criminal organization and decides he must be kidnapped and brought back. He and a reluctant Nancy set off to do so and are successful. Oliver is now in extreme danger, because Sykes is a stone cold killer.

Meanwhile, Bumble and Corney discover they made a mistake when they sold the orphan for a mere five dollars. A “bundle of rags,” an old woman named Sally (Diane Roberts), shows up at the workhouse and, in her dying breaths, says that years ago she had stolen a golden locket from a young woman who had died giving birth to a boy, a boy named Oliver. The mother had mysteriously shown up at the workhouse, with cut and bruised feet making it appear she had been walking for days, so it was assumed she was a vagrant. The locket, though, showed that she probably had come from a wealthy family, and only had been on the streets because of some mysterious misfortune.

“We must retrieve that boy, Mr. Bumble,” says Corney.

At the same time Brownlow advertises for any information about Oliver. Bumble responds and shows Brownlow the locket. It contains a picture of Brownlow’s daughter! The gentleman dismisses Bumble, telling him his days as a beadle are numbered, and is about to summon the Bow Street Runners to assist him is his search for Oliver, who may well be his grandchild.

Nancy arrives at Brownlow’s door and says she will bring Oliver to him that night under the London Bridge. But when she gets there Sykes arrives to snatch the boy. Oliver is literally in Syke’s clutches!

What will happen next?

Our Gang’s “Oliver” is a theatrical spectacle. Its cast includes enough cute kids to qualify for their own ZIP code. It has a live orchestra, somewhat rare in Southern Ocean County in an era where canned music is becoming more and more prominent. Finally, Bart’s score contains a number of memorable songs including “Food, Glorious Food,” “Oliver,” “Consider Yourself,” “Pick a Pocket or Two,” “It’s a Fine Life,” “Be Back Soon,” “As Long As He Needs Me,” “Where Is Love?” “Who Will Buy?” and “Reviewing the Situation.”

Well worth the effort of making a call to reserve tickets.

— Rick Mellerup


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